Being raised a vegetarian, I’ve long been aware of the importance of what we put into our bodies. As a society, we’re often educated about the importance of eating balanced meals, limiting refined sugars, and cutting back on processed foods. But what about what we put onto our bodies? It’s easy to forget that our skin is an organ with the amazing ability to absorb the things we put on it, whether good or bad. And what about the things in our homes we come in contact with daily, such as our clothing, cleaning products, makeups, lotions, and the list goes on?
About three years ago, I began to become more aware of the harmful chemicals that are used in everyday household products. In a study performed at the University of Washington, it was found that with the average scented laundry detergent and fragranced dryer sheet combination, “more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants, can be produced. Of those, two chemicals – acetaldehyde and benzene – are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens, for which the agency has established no safe exposure level.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In an article by Cleveland Clinic that touches on some common household items and their health effects, it states that “Air fresheners contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants. These chemicals are thought to cause cancer and brain damage.” The list goes on and on. Combined with our poor diets, no wonder Americans have so many health problems. We’ve all heard stories of people who ate perfectly their entire lives, but somehow still ended up with cancer. I’ve often wondered if these chemicals we expose ourselves to regularly might play a role. Research is beginning to support this.
Without going further into the nitty gritty of all the harmful chemicals in our everyday use items (there are tons of online resources), I just wanted to share a little bit about my journey in taking steps to create a more healthful home.
When I first started learning about all of these things, in typical Sheree-fashion, I went way over the top and vowed that I would never again use any of those harmful products in my home! I visited a local organic market, and was practically ready to buy the entire store. I purchased, toothpastes, deodorant, soaps, you name it. If you’ve ever bought organic/natural products before, you know they can be more than double the price of average products. Needless to say, I spent entirely too much money that day, and my husband, who I was only a few months married to at the time, was not happy (to say the least).
I realized two valuable lessons that day: 1) If I was going to make a lifestyle change like that, I needed to ensure that it was sustainable. I’ve now learned that sustainability is best realized when it comes to fruition gradually over time. 2) If this was going to affect our budget, which it did to an extent, I would need my hubby on board as well.
Over the next few months, I decided to simply tackle one product at a time. As I finished one product I was using, dryer sheets for example, I would replace it with the new healthier alternative instead (In this case, wool dryer balls). Over these past few years, I’ve made some significant changes with this method, but there’s still more to be made. Here are some of my favorite substitutions so far.
|Dryer Sheets||Wool Dryer Balls (Add a few drops of essential oil for fragrance)|
|Laundry Detergent||Ecos Laundry Detergent (a plant-based alternative)|
|Baby’s Laundry Detergent||Dr. Bronner’s, organic pure-castile soap|
|Brightening Whites||Boiling Clothes with Lemon and Water (Currently only doing this for baby’s clothes)|
|Air Freshener||Essential Oils in a diffuser|
|Windex||Vinegar (seriously works wonders!)|
|Cleaning toys and other items||Hot soapy water and vinegar|
|Ajax or Dawn brand Dish soap||Seventh-Generation Dish Liquid (Seventh Generation is an awesome brand that seeks to minimize the use of harmful ingredients by using plant-based alternatives)|
|All-Purpose Bathroom Cleaner (I used to fluctuate between Fabuloso, Ajax, and Clorox)||Seventh-Generation All-purpose Cleaner|
|Stainless Steel Cleaner||Vinegar|
|Dishwasher Detergent||Seventh-Generation Dishwasher Detergent|
|Garbage Disposal Freshener||Run the disposal with Lemon Peel|
|Cleaner for Baby’s Bathtub||Seventh-Generation Dish Liquid and Vinegar|
|Colgate Toothpaste||TheraBreath Toothpaste (Not perfect, but definitely better)|
|Lotion||Homemade Whipped Shea Butter and Coconut Oil (I primarily use this for Micah. I have eczema and often require something a bit stronger).|
|Secret Deodorant||Crystal Mineral Salt Deodorant Stone|
|Eye-Liner||Juice Beauty Liquid Line (Made with organic, plant-based ingredients)|
|Hair Care Products||Shea Moisture & Kinky Curly Lines|
|Baby Shampoo & Conditioner*||Tiny Twirls Shampoo & Conditioner|
|Baby’s Bath soap||Alaffia Body Wash and/or Bubble Bath|
|Water-based Lubricant (yes…that kind)||Coconut oil! (Important Note: Oil-based lubricants should not be used with latex condoms)|
|Magnum Condoms||Lambskin Condoms (Important Note: Only to be used in monogamous relationships. Does not prevent against STDs….but has the added benefit of being thinner for better sensation *wink wink*).|
|Dove Bar Soap||Dr. Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap|
|Softsoap Hand Soap||Mrs. Meyers Hand Soap|
|Gillette Shaving Cream||Dr. Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap|
|Vaseline or Carmex Lip Balm||Burt’s Bee’s Lip Balm|
|Plastic Spoons and Containers||Currently phasing out to metal and/or wooden spoons and Pyrex Glass dishes with a lid|
*Read more about my care routine for Micah’s curly hair here.
One of the things I was most pleasantly surprised by with all of these changes was how versatile vinegar is. You can use it for practically everything. Also, the swap from dryer sheets (or fabric softener) is so easy and cost effective. You can get up to 1,000 loads out of 1 wool ball! It’s safer and will save you money. I’d call it a no-brainer!
It’s been three years in the making, and a lot of these changes have required much trial and error. Whenever I introduce a new product into our home, I always make sure the ingredients list is a simple as possible, with more plant-based items than not. The most important thing, however, was finding options that were healthier, yet still offered convenience. I wasn’t trying to make my life more difficult in the process. Secondly, the product had to work for our family. For example, I use the deodorant stone mentioned above, but it didn’t work for my husband, so he still uses regular deodorant (Suggestions anyone?). Lastly, in order to make sure these changes were sustainable, I had to make them slowly over time, because let’s be honest, they are more expensive.
And one final note. It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll never be able to completely eliminate harmful chemicals from our lives. They’re everywhere from our building materials, paints, home décor, and furniture made with flame-retardant materials. I try to keep things in perspective and remember that it’s more about mitigating risk and trying to minimize exposure where I can.
I still don’t have it all down, but it’s certainly a start. What are some of your favorite home care solutions? I’m always looking for suggestions and ideas on this topic so if you have any, I’d love to hear about them below!